SXSW Interview with Sini Anderson, Tamra Davis and Kathleen Hanna of The Punk Singer

Interviews
by Kerensa Cadenas
March 29, 2013 2:00 PM
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I can't write about Sini Anderson's great documentary The Punk Singer without mentioning that Kathleen Hanna has been one of my life-long heroes. When I was sixteen a friend gave me my first Bikini Kill CD, I had never heard anything like it, and feminism wasn't something that was remotely on my radar. I dove into Hanna's music and read everything I could about riot grrrl, even doing a presentation on it for a high school class where I received quizzical looks from the other students. Hanna always seemed larger than life to me--a musically inclined revolutionary badass.

Anderson's The Punk Singer encapsulates Hanna in this way, documenting her "origin stories", her childhood, her time in Bikini Kill and the riot grrrl movement, and her time in Le Tigre. Hanna ruminates on these periods of her life and feminism, interspersed with archival footage of Bikini Kill performing, Le Tigre on tour and Hanna giving speeches at feminist rallies. She is eloquent, accessible, inspirational and remains exactly the woman that I (and many others) idolize.

However, Anderson also captures Hanna vulnerably--an unexpected romance with her now husband, Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys to her sudden exit from performing in 2005, a move that confused fans, friends and even Hanna's bandmates. The cause was unknown at the time but it was a health issue, a diagnosis of Lyme disease which had gone undetected for years.

Anderson gives a fascinating portrait of an endlessly inspirational woman, telling Hanna's story on her own terms. And while I'll always consider Hanna as a feminist superhero, she's also a woman--who deals with the same things we all do. Seeing everything that Hanna has thus far accomplished leaves the audience with the feeling that you can start your own revolution. The Sixteen year old me would be happy to know that Hanna, both in the documentary and face to face, lives up to everything I'd hoped.

I spoke with director, Sini Anderson; producer, Tamra Davis and Kathleen Hanna about the film.

Women and Hollywood: What drew all of you to decide to do this project?

Kathleen Hanna: My band Le Tigre was making a tour documentary. And we needed a director and I knew Sini was interested in filmmaking. We had talked a lot about filmmaking, so I approached her. And she was like, "No." And then two weeks later, we were hanging out and she was like, "Hey, I don't want to do that project, but I would be really interested in doing a movie about your life and your work. Think about it." I thought about it and said yes.

Sini Anderson: I was really excited the Le Tigre film, but my heart was just like, "When are you going to tell your story?" So, I asked Kathleen "When do you think you are going to be ready to tell your story? Because I know that people really need to hear it." Kathleen was like, "Oh, I don't know."  Then she called me and said, "I've been thinking about what you said.  I don't know if I'm ready to do this, but if we are going to do it, let's do it." That was a really exciting moment, to hear somebody be ready to say, "Yeah, you can do this. I'll tell my story."

Tamra Davis: I was working on Basquiat at the time. Sini came to me.  I love mentoring young filmmakers and girl filmmakers. So, we talked about her making the film. Then three years later she came to me while she was editing. She had hit a roadblock.  She had this amazing interview with Kathleen.  What I saw in her footage was this amazing story but it was complicated to weave everything together. I came on and helped structure the film and made a story out of it in the edit room.

We all came back together and made sure that we all felt good about the story. For me, also, I love Kathleen's story so much and it was so important to me that it was told right. It was so overwhelming because not only was there all of Sini's footage, there were also hundreds of hours of this archival materials that was just massive. The goal was trying to figure out how to weave it together. For me, it was amazing to see Kathleen's life and try to structure an emotional story out of it. And we all worked together as a team. Both Sini and I love Kathleen so much, we really just wanted to make sure that that film represented her. Because it's her life.

WaH: Sini, the movie was funded by Kickstarter and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about that process. 

SA: We are in this great place where people can pick up cameras and tell stories. That being said, it still costs a lot of money. And, I'm not somebody who comes from money. We were able to purchase a camera. You need a good camera if you want a beautiful film.  That was something that I cared very much about, that the aesthetic look good. We had people willing to show up and work for free, but hard drives cost money, travel costs money, feeding your crew costs money. So, it was a real struggle. 

We got to the point of editing and I thought I don't know what we are going to do without asking for help. So, we went to Kickstarter. I'm a huge fan. Not only is it such a great idea, they are really amazing people. They are really willing to show up and say, 'What do you need? How can we help you?  Having that model and putting it out there for people is really making all of these films and projects and books and albums possible. 

It was scary and fun to put it out there. But, I knew, if we put it out there, Kathleen's fans would come forward. People were so excited about it.  Kathleen did an update for us that was just like, "Thanks, you guys. This was so great." And people were just excited to see her. It gave the film a lot of interest before we even started editing. All of those people from Kickstarter are still asking for updates and it's amazing.

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